Metal performance: a brief history of robots and automata

Dixon, Steve (2004) Metal performance: a brief history of robots and automata. The Drama Review, 48 (4). pp. 15-46.

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Item Type: Article
Title: Metal performance: a brief history of robots and automata

Metal performance frequently highlights a postmodern concern to return
to nature and the animal, and often celebrates an eroticized sexuality of metal, with “them fuckin’ robots” both fucking (signaling the humanization of machines) and being fucked (signifying the machinization of humans). Metal performances exalt in the conjunction of the hard and the soft; the natural and the technological; the metal and the meat. They are also characterized by fundamental tensions and contradictions that also exist within camp, combining “the polarities of seriousness and play, cynicism and affection, (self)mockery and (self)celebration” (Cleto 1999:25). Both camp and metal performance share the notion of exclusiveness, what Sontag calls “esoteric— something of a private code, a badge of identity even” ([1964] 1999:53).
Within queer theory, the appreciation and celebration of camp is articulated
as a defining exclusivity of taste and sensibility working outside and against the mainstream. In the same way, the tastes and sensibilities of metal-culture proponents—metal performers, body-piercers, techno-theorists, and would-be cyborgs— define a similar exclusiveness of aesthetic expression and ideological transgression. Like camp, its delicious nonconformity relies upon its very difference from the status quo: it “is only recognisable as a deviation from an implied norm, and without that norm it would cease to exist, it would lack definition” (Britton [1978] 1999:138). Metal performance operates with the theatrically of camp in exploring what Andrew Britton describes as “the thrill of ‘something wrong’ ” (141). In a rapidly evolving technological age, despite its supposed deviance and peculiarity, metal performance already seems strangely familiar. This too it shares with camp, the key to which, according to Mark Booth, “lies in reconciling its essential marginality with its evident ubiquity” ([1983] 1999:66).
Finally, metal performance relates to the profound fears as well as the camp
fascinations of the humanization of machines and the humanization/machinization of humans. Jay Bolter argues that “by making a machine think like a man, man re-creates himself, defines himself, as a machine” (1990:13) and Hugo de Garis (2001) has predicted that human evolution will ultimately lead to what he terms “Gigadeath.” Coition with and immersion and transformation into metal reaches its logical conclusion with Hans Moravec’s projection—mentioned
above—that by 2050 it will be possible to transfer one’s
entire consciousness into a machine. Running parallel to such predictions and
visions of the machinization of humans are developments in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, which herald the advanced humanization of machines.
Roboticist Rodney A. Brooks holds that humans have already begun an irreversible evolutionary process through the use of bodily technological prostheses, and that the simultaneous emergence of the intelligent robot will lead to a situation whereby:
As these robots get smarter, some people will worry about what will
happen when they get really smart. Will they decide that we humans are
useless and stupid and take over the world from us? I have recently come
to realize that this will never happen. Because there won’t be any of us
(people) for them (pure robots) to take over from. (2002:ix)
The shiny new bodies and mythic metamorphoses enacted in metallic performance
art celebrate but also forewarn of the gradual disappearance of the
human body. Intelligent and conscious machines in the future may take their
origin from humans, but they may equally originate from other sentient machines.
George Dyson suggests that: “In the game of life and evolution there
are three players at the table: human beings, nature and machines. I am firmly
on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines” (in
Levery 2001:152).
In appreciating the camp excesses of metal performance, we might therefore
reflect, as Britton observes in relation to gay camp, that it may signify only “a
kind of anaesthetic, allowing one to remain inside oppressive relations while
enjoying the illusory confidence that one is flouting them” ([1978] 1999:138).

Subjects: Research in Education
Divisions: Centre for Research in the Arts
Depositing User: Ms Ashalatha Krishnan
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2015 05:46
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2015 05:49
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